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By Lisa Lynn Morgan / JoshuaTreeVoice.com

“The Desert is Freedom, Music Is Power & Community Is Crucial”

The vision of a handful of men pushing up a giant beam in the middle of a hot dusty desert far off the main highway, surrounded by little else, would have seemed ridiculous to anyone else, but Barnett English isn’t like anyone else. It made perfect sense to turn this empty acreage into a place where music sojourners would gather and enjoy the transcendent musical sanctuary now known as the Joshua Tree Music Festival grounds.

Photo by Foster Snell

Seth Zaharias, owner of Cliffhanger Guides, and longtime Joshua Tree resident was there pounding out nails from old boards to recycle them because Barnett said that was how they were going to build a music festival. “There couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred people there,” Zaharias said of the inaugural event. “We were all bummed because our friend was losing his ass, but not Barnett. He just kept the party going, and it was a great night! These days, second to the Marine base, this guy employs more people than any other local business I know.”

From Partners of The Joshua Tree Voice

Barnett’s mantra, “The desert is freedom, music is power, and community is crucial,” is built into the core of every detail of these festival experiences. Even the wristbands initiate themes such as “Be the light.” Because of this, Joshua Tree Music Festival has become a desert jewel, shining brightly against the darker things in the world. It’s a place where attendees and the music makers become a united congregation; where children experience music, freedom, safety, and inspiration with their parents: where inclusivity has been planted deeply into its soil and generously watered and fed with every gathering. It has survived the entire world shutting down with its founder ever tilling the soil to provide a vortex for magic, and it has been the place where people have found healing from the dark effects of isolation.

PC: Joshua Tree Music Festival

Barnett is 38 festivals in. Maybe this crazy idea of his will stick! Truth be told, every festival has run at a deficit. Yet festival after festival, with a burning desire to make it better, he continues to invest more into infrastructure, the crew, and the artists. There is nothing remotely easy about any part of what Barnett is doing. He has a successful coffee business (JavaGogo Coffee Company – “We’re Not Happy Unless You’re A Little Nervous”). He’s not bored – the music enthusiast travels from festival to festival selling his coffee with his beautiful wife by his side. So why does he do it? The answer to that question is best told by the man himself.

Why We Do It

From Barnett English

The Desert is Freedom

Joshua Tree was a love at first sight kind of thing. It was October of 2002. We drove in at night to sell espresso bevvies at the Joshua Tree Didgeridoo Festival at the Joshua Tree Lake Campground. We woke up to sweeping views of the otherworldly National Park, bordering BLM land, nestled up against the Copper Mountains. Wow. We started setting up our booth, and this cat rolled up in his VW bus with a large mural of planet Earth painted on the side. He said he had fixins for egg burritos, but no coffee. It was a dream date as we had no food (thanks D-Lo!). That was the first of many serendipitous moments that transpired over the long weekend.

The desert is freedom. Away from more crowded environs, you’re free to cultivate your eccentricities. Free to dream big. “California Dreaming.” Free to “shout, shout, let it all out.” Stars abound ad infinitum – more stars than cars. Radiant moonbeams flaring, electrifying sunsets. “I’ve seen sunny days I thought would never end.” The massive (uncluttered) views calm the frenetic chatter of the mind. The desert is vast; “you’re invisible now, you’ve got no secrets to conceal.” It’s a place without expectations, so “come as you are.” What I’m saying is, I love it here.

From Partners of The Joshua Tree Voice

Music is Power

Ever since I was little, I’ve leaned on music to get me through; “to get on up.” I’ve got solid gold memories of driving around as a kid, with my mom in our Dodge Dart, the AM radio fueling us. Aretha would be telling me to “Think,” and to “Rock Steady.” I had no clue what Rock Steady meant, but I sure wanted to find out. Paul implored me to “Let It Be,” while John taught me that “We All Shine On.” Props to Diana, as she ingrained in my brain that “Aint No Mountain High Enough.” Carlos encouraged me to change my “Evil Ways,” while Curtis urged me to “Move on Up.” And on and on….

PC: Mariya Stangl


PC: Jacob Avanzato


My mom would get into the music while driving. Feeling it, she’d do this dance where she’d pump the brakes and tap the steering wheel with the palms of her hands at the same time. The car would be jerking, and we’d be singing and bumpin’ down the road. Good times, to be sure. Looking back, I’m amazed we never got pulled over.

By my teens, I was a vinyl junkie. Clearly AM radio was a gateway drug. For three plus decades, I spent an unwise percentage of every penny I made on records and CDs, always looking for my new favorite song, or a band, or a sound that I’d never heard. Over the years, I made over 600 mixed tapes and CDs. You could say I was mixed up. Worth every penny, ‘cause music made a bad day good, a good day great, and a great day phenomenal.

Then, accidentally on purpose, back in 2003, the Joshua Tree Music Festival was born – live mixed tapes if you will. I’m still seeking that new favorite song, sound, or band. And I’m still leaning on music as medicine.

PC: Joshua Tree Music Festival

Community is Crucial

Yes, the music is powerful, and the desert setting sublime, but it’s really all about the people.

“And now, more than ever, we need one another.”

The capacity for collective joy is encoded into us almost as deeply as the capacity for the love of one human for another. The Desert is Freedom, Music is Power, and Community IS crucial.

For 20+ years, folks have been bringing more friends and family with them to the next Joshua Tree Music Festival. Organic growth. The beautiful result of that slow growth is that the super tight, family-friendly, community-centric feel is palpable. It’s real, it’s refreshing and it’s rejuvenating. When friends & family camp together under the stars for a few days and nights, bonds are renewed and strengthened. Spontaneous eruptions of gratitude abound. Magical connections are inevitable. Serendipitous moments are maximized. We humans need these rich, life-affirming experiences. The festival is a playground, and you can understand more about someone in an hour of play, than in a year of conversation. I laugh and cry more in the four days at the festival than I do in months.

PC: Amandala Photography


PC: Tom Dellinger


And when we all get together, there’s that joyful euphoria felt during a shared communal experience – collective effervescence…that incommunicable thrill of a group deliberately united in exaltation – intense feelings of well-being and happiness from being a part of something that is bigger than us. And we hold on to those feelings of connectedness long after the actual event. That’s the real juicy stuff.

Hundreds of talented, loving, and caring people help create the music festivals – charismatic improvisers, wild hearts, positive deviants, hippy gypsies, seekers of exhilarating beauty, the lustfully compassionate, and the rebelliously kind. It’s an oasis of smiling faces conspiring to commit intelligent fun. It’s a family affair. It’s a love affair.

The festival is a place where “you’re a shining star, no matter who you are.” And “we all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun.” “So shine on you crazy diamonds.”

Here’s to hoping we see you at the 18th annual fall Joshua Tree Music Festival, October 5-8, 2023.

To find out more about the festival, yoga, camping, kid’s corner and incredible lineup, go to joshuatreemusicfestival.com

PC: Chase Johnson

From Partners of The Joshua Tree Voice

Tags assigned to this article:
Joshua Tree Music FestivalLive Music

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